At its annual meeting in January, the IPHC recommended to the governments of Canada and the United States catch limits for 2017 totaling 31.4 million pounds, a 5 percent increase from last year. Alaska's total halibut catch was set at 22.62 million pounds, up 1.17 million pounds from 2016. For commercial and charter halibut fishers in Alaska, the following regulations are in effect:
In Area 2C (Southeast Alaska):
- Combined commercial and guided sport catch limit: 5,250,000 pounds
- Charter fishery one-fish daily bag limit with a "reverse slot limit." Charter anglers may only keep a halibut that is less than or equal to 44 inches or greater than or equal to 80 inches in length
- If halibut are filleted at sea, the carcass must be retained onboard until landing
In Area 3A (Southcentral Alaska):
- Combined commercial and guided sport catch limit: 10,000,000 pounds
- Charter fishery two-fish daily bag limit: one any size / one no more than 28 inches total length
- Charter vessel anglers will be limited to harvesting no more than four halibut on charter vessel fishing trips in Area 3A during 2017 and these halibut must be reported on the angler's harvest record
- A vessel limit of one trip per calendar day, on which halibut are harvested
- A limit of one trip per charter halibut permit per calendar day, on which halibut are harvested
- No person may catch and retain halibut on a charter vessel in Area 3A on Wednesdays throughout the year
- No person may catch and retain halibut on a charter vessel in Area 3A on three Tuesday closures: July 18, 25, and August 1
- If halibut are filleted at sea, the carcass of the halibut that is less than or equal to 28 inches must be retained onboard until landing
Unguided halibut sport fishers in Alaska will continue to observe a daily bag limit of 2 fish any size per person per day.
The IPHC approved a proposal to require all commercial Pacific halibut to be landed and weighed with their heads attached (head-on) for data reporting purposes. The 2017 halibut management measures require that halibut be landed head-on and those head-on halibut will be subject to a 32-inch minimum size limit. The only exception is for vessels that freeze halibut at sea. Those vessels may deliver their frozen, head-off halibut shoreside with a 24-inch minimum size limit.
The 2017 halibut management measures clarify that it is prohibited to retain Pacific halibut on a commercial vessel in excess of the total amount of unharvested quota that is currently held by all permit holders aboard the vessel for the area in which the vessel is fishing unless the vessel has a NMFS-certified observer on board and maintains a daily fishing log in compliance with NOAA Fisheries regulations.
At its 2016 Annual Meeting, the IPHC authorized longline pot gear as legal gear for the commercial halibut fishery in Alaska when NOAA Fisheries regulations permit the use of this gear in the sablefish individual fishing quota fishery. NOAA Fisheries regulations will authorize the use of longline pot gear in the IFQ sablefish fishery on March 11, 2017. Therefore, beginning in 2017, vessels using longline pot gear to harvest IFQ sablefish in the Gulf of Alaska will be required to retain halibut consistent with IPHC regulations and NOAA Fisheries regulations.
The commercial fishery season dates are March 11 through November 7, 2017 for all areas in Alaska. Permit holders can access and download copies of their permits online at: https://alaskafisheries.noaa.gov/webapps/efish/login. Please contact Restricted Access Management (RAM) for assistance at (907) 586-7202 or (800) 304-4846.